Albany It’s been a decade between performances for Diedra Langstaff, who’s returning to the Theatre Albany stage this week for a comedy role in “’Til Beth Do Us Part.”
Langstaff, the wife of attorney and Albany City Commissioner Bob Langstaff, is president and owner of Langstaff Marketing. She has a degree in radio, television and motion pictures from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and attended the American Musical and Dramatic School of the Arts in New York.
She’s also been involved in organizations such as the Junior League, the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, The Anchorage, Girls Inc. and the Girl Scouts. The Langstaffs have three children.
On Tuesday, Langstaff spoke with Jim Hendricks of The Albany Herald about her return to the stage, her love for theater and the challenge of working with some of Theatre Albany’s best-known performers.
Q: I was working on some bad information. Somebody had told me this was your first time on stage.
A: No. I actually have a long history with the theater. I left Albany in 1986 to move to Atlanta to go to a performing arts school. So I graduated from the Northside School of the Arts. Then I went to Chapel Hill, but left Chapel Hill to go to New York and went to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. And then decided after doing that for a year that I’m never really going to make it on Broadway. I went back to Chapel Hill and finished school there. Then I continued to do theater while Bob was in law school. When we moved back here, I did a few productions with Theatre Albany, but it’s been 10 years since I’ve been at the theater.
Q: Why’d you take 10 years off?
A: I had, during that time, three children and was growing the business and started having employees, and it was just busy and crazy and Bob’s business was booming. It’s just one of those things where there wasn’t the time to do it.
Q: What was the last one you did?
A: The last one I did was “Meet Me in St. Louis,” which is a musical.
Q: What got you back on stage now?
A: Well, I think that I’ve been itching to get back for a few years and, honestly, it was a show that fit the timeframe I had to work. It’s at the beginning of the school year, the kids weren’t quite yet as involved in things. We have hired a new person at the office, and I felt like some work would be taken off of me and I had the time to devote to it. I talked to Bob and he said, “Yeah, I think it’s a good time. Go for it.” It’s a short show, and the rehearsal time wasn’t as long. And it’s a funny show. Everything I’ve done in the most recent past has been musical theater and so this was just a comedy and I thought, I don’t want to do a musical. I want to do something different. I read the script and thought, “This is it. This is what I want to do.”
Q: What’s the part that you’re playing?
A: I am Suzannah. Basically I think the reason Mark (Costello, the director) wanted me to do this part is because Suzannah is like Deidra in real life. She is a workaholic working her way up the corporate ladder. She’s consumed with that. Her children have left home and she’s so busy she’s hired this assistant, Beth, to come in to make her personal life and her work life easier. And, of course, Beth’s out to get Suzannah’s job. And during the process — kicking her husband out of the house and everything that goes on, it’s a comedy and really funny — what Suzannah realizes is that what’s more important is having her family together, not climbing that corporate ladder.
Q: I know that with Theatre Albany you said you’ve done mostly musicals, but I’m sure you’ve done a variety in college. What are you more drawn to? Comedy, musicals, drama?
A: I think everything was always very heavily musical theater, and that’s why I went to school in New York. But in college at Chapel Hill, everything I did was all theater and a little avant garde. “The Marriage of Bette and Boo” was a show that I did in college that’s great. Christopher Durang has this really quirky sense of humor — very, very dark sense of humor — and so it was about comedy. I did a lot of that sort of theater performance instead of just musical theater, but it was really musical theater that was sort of my first love.
Q: What’s the most difficult part of the acting craft for you?
A: Obviously, the first thing is memorizing all the lines, but just because now I don’t have all the time in the world. But I think the hardest part of it is it’s really easier to learn your lines once you establish who your character is. Once you figure out that person’s personality and what their thought processes are, why they do what they do ... once you kind of get that character sketched in your head, then it’s easier to memorize your lines because they come naturally most of the time, if the script’s been written well. It just makes sense that that’s what she would say and how she would say it.
I don’t think I have much trouble with a character once I have it established in my head, and of course that is a balance between what you as the actor want and what the director wants. Sometimes who you think that character is isn’t how the director wants you to portray that character, so you have to come to a happy medium.
Q: I would think you also, as far as making the lines come naturally, would have to have a good idea about the other characters in the play.
A: Oh, yeah. Part of building that sketch of that character’s personality is how do they interact with other people, how do they interact with those they are close with, how do they carry themselves? If you ran into a doorman, how would you treat him versus how you would treat your husband? A lot of it does come from just knowing the characters, their personality types, what their history is, what their dreams and aspirations are. You kind of make all of this up in your head, and none of it is given to you in the script. And sometimes working with the director, you go back and change her.
At first, Mark had me playing Suzannah as this really, really harsh person — and she is, she’s very harsh, she’s very focused and businesslike in what she’s doing — but at the same time as we’re doing more practicing and rehearsing, she’s starting to become more ... she’s funny. She has a sense of humor. You can be a workaholic and have some fun, too. I think that’s what she’s come around to being.
Q: Any butterflies over getting back on stage?
A: Oh, my gosh, yes. I’m more nervous coming back after 10 years than I’ve probably ever been. And doing everything I’ve done, whether it’s been theater or television work or commercial work or anything I’ve ever done, this is more nerve-racking right now. I mean, there’s a lot more at stake for me personally because I feel like maybe I just don’t have it anymore. Maybe I didn’t use my skills and I’ve let them get rusty and what if I can’t get them back? I am extremely, extremely nervous.
Q: Well, on the upside, on your return to the stage you get to act with Doug Lorber in his underwear.
A: (Laughing) Hey, what more could a girl want than to do that?
I think that’s the other thing that’s a little nerve-racking, too. This isn’t just a show like in the past when I’ve done musical theater. Yeah, we’ve had some great performers, but lots of times the musicals tend to bring out the younger kids and the high school students so you don’t feel as much pressure because they are all a little young and, even though they’re great at what they do, you’re not feeling as much pressure. But when you’re acting with people like Doug Lorber and Alicia Croxton ... I guarantee you Doug and Alicia could go to any major city and do some theater and get some really great reviews. People just don’t realize how awesome it is that we have that kind of talent here in Albany. It’s definitely nerve-racking. I’ve got to hold my own.